Nisha Mandani has been delivering critical goods and services to the refugees in Rohingya since April through her Our AIM Foundation.

DUNEDIN – About two years ago, globe-trotting philanthropist Nisha Mandani was busy digging wells and providing basic services and materials for the people of Malawi through her Our AIM Foundation’s Just One Humanity project.

Now, after a “very successful program in India and Africa,” Mandani has directed her foundation’s efforts toward Rohingya, a group of roughly 1 million stateless refugees from Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, in Southeast Asia.

The Rohingya crisis has been well documented by organizations like the Human Rights Watch, which reported that “the Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and repression under successive Burmese governments,” noting, “since late August 2017, more than 671,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma’s Rakhine State to escape the military’s large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing. The atrocities committed by Burmese security forces, including mass killings, sexual violence, and wide-spread arson, amount to crimes against humanity.”

“The Rohingya situation is so sad, so painful,” Mandani said by phone recently during a brief stop at home in Dunedin. “You listen to stories with tears in your eyes. A mom put her newborn baby in a fire and slashed her husband’s throat, 11-year-olds being raped and treated worse than animals. Every day 60 children of rape victims are born in Rohingya camps. It’s truly awful.”

Mandani explained that when they migrated from Burma, the refugees were put in fugitive camps at the border and quickly descended into a chaotic way of life.

“They’re tribal people. Uneducated. They have nothing – no home, no food, no clothing, no shelter,” she said. “They live in tents and there are 1 million people living there, with hundreds of thousands of children running around naked because they have no clothes. They have no hope and no future because they don’t know what tomorrow holds for them. No one wants them,” she said.

Mandani said she and her team of volunteers have been on the ground helping Rohingya since April, where they have built over 100 homes and fed and clothed more than 100 women and children.

“We have given clothes, built 100 homes and are giving them classes and projects to help them be self-sustainable. We’re also starting IUDs and birth control and focus on women’s health and hygiene,” Mandani said.

She said her foundation focuses on four key issues.

“We focus on women’s health, building toilets and showers, offering sewing classes and sewing machines to teach them how to sew, and digging bore wells,” she said, though their work is not limited to those areas.

Prior to leaving last month, Mandani’s team held a grand opening of a bridge that was on the verge of collapse they helped rebuild.

“We have a huge trip planned in November, because there is so much to be done,” she said, noting she couldn’t accomplish what she does without her team of dedicated volunteers and assistance from local organizations such as the Angels of Rohingya medical team. “With 1 million people, the need is so immense, you can’t reach everybody. But we try to reach as many as we can.”

Mandani said despite the immense obstacles and scenes of desperation and sorrow she regularly faces, the reactions from the people who benefit from her foundation helps keep her going.

“I believe no matter what you do, you need to put your heart and soul into it,” she said. “Their reaction is unbelievable. It’s overwhelming. Just overwhelming. What we need is to help to bring the word about what’s happening to the masses. Ninety percent of the people don’t know what’s happening in the world. It’s sad.”

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